The Easter long weekend lays out time like a ceremonial carpet and decisions about how to allocate it must be made. Considering I would not be spending this time in church (as I don’t go) or hiding eggs for a hunt around the backyard (as I have neither children nor yard), the diary was looking pretty free.
My friend Kelly and I therefore decided to escape Sydney for the South Coast on an overnight adventure. It would take in an ocean-side hike followed by a home-cooked meal and a few glasses of wine at her parents’ holiday house in Culburra. And if this warm weather held out, perhaps even an early autumn swim.
We left on the public holiday Monday morning and travelled south along the Princes Highway out of Sydney, heading past Wollongong Uni and the imposing, if bafflingly located, Nan Tien Buddhist Temple. The road eventually winds and dips, hugging the coast and veering from it, past beachside towns like Kiama, where weatherboard houses climb back into the hills around the sea. As we twist down into dairy country, we near our obvious first destination: the famous Berry Donut Van.
Berry is a charming town full of cafes, craft and homewares stores, and the odd rustic pub. It is frequented by us Sydney-siders keen to escape the city, and at just under two hours drive from the CBD, it swells on weekends, a slow stream of cars crawling in either side of its main strip. But you cannot pass through Berry without a stop at the Berry Donut Van, which serves possibly the best fresh cinnamon donuts in all the land. Made to order, these guys are piping hot crack. Crispy on the edges, but soft in the middle, they will only set you back $8 for a bag of six. We also ducked into The Moss Nest, a florist and homewares store, where Kel bought a whimsical little bunch of flowers for her Nan, whose beach-front place in Culburra we popped into later that afternoon.
But first, we needed to get thee to the walking spot stat and banish more than a few donut calories. But it wasn’t to be our last distraction on the way…as we hit Nowra and turned left down into Jindyandy Lane, Kel was reminiscing about a local grower down this way who makes the world’s best chile-infused pesto. And like a prophesy, there she was! Standing before a shelved wooden stand at the foot of her country drive, a fringed brunette greeted us and showed us her stock. Kel asked about the pesto noticeable missing, but alas, she had not had time of late, so instead scurried into her yard and produced a fresh bunch of basil should we wish to make our own. Surveying the other offerings, I was drawn to the green tomato relish and Kel picked up a bottle of quinces, and we jumped back into the car.
The Hike: Abraham’s Bosom
Much of the stunning Shoalhaven region of the south coast is covered in national park, and we drove deep into it to reach our destination of Currarong. The particular reserve we were set to tramp on is called Abraham’s Bosom, meaning ‘a place of comfort’ according to the Old Testament.
But minutes into our walk, after we crossed a bridge of rustic auburn water (without a clue as to how it became this oddly unnatural colour), and walked down a bush-lined track that was frequented by post-rain ponds of water, we considered our already wet socks and wondered if ‘a place of comfort’ was perhaps an ill-advised name.
We wandered on down the 9 kilometre Trig Walk, enveloped by scratchy hedge that was periodically ripping into my lower legs each time we had to edge against it to avoid walking in a swollen puddle. Despite this, we were kind of enjoying getting pally with the sticks. It made us feel adventurous, like what Bear Grills would have been like as a toddler. And we were flanked by green and ochre native Australian fauna: honeysuckles and eucalypts, coastal grasses and shrubs.
As we walked on we got higher and eventually our site-line was above the vegetation, which gave way to a sweeping view of the ocean, albeit still at a distance. As we begun to descend towards it, we were again down into the shrubbery, but we followed the crashing sounds of the sea.
As we reached an escarpment of cliffs, signalling our arrival at the coastline, a sign warned us of the “narrow track, dangerous waves”, but we went forth, being drawn to the ocean as coastal Australian kids often are.
We stepped onto dramatically eroded cliffs rumbling with the sea. It looked like these walls of rock had been taken to with a rake rather than wind and water. Huge chunks of the edge had broken off and tumbled into a haphazard pile in the tide. A red and white lifesaver hung against the rock as further warning of what can also get swept away.
As we re-joined the track, we realised soon after that we re-joined the wrong track and spent some time navigating our way through stick-like stumps back to where we had already been. The rest of the hike mainly hugged the coastline, and we ducked out to little beach coves, mostly deserted except for the occasional family enjoying a public holiday picnic in the national park. The last part of the journey joins what is called the Wreck Walk, named after the SS Merimbula shipwreck of 1928, the small hull of which can be seen jutting out of the rocks. We walked towards it over rock shelf, until we realised without immersing our legs underwater it was impassable. So we walked the short way to the close of the circuit and our waiting car.
That evening, in ode of the weather turning cooler as often happens around Easter, we made a hearty minestrone soup, with fresh pesto using the basil given us earlier that day. Of course this was after a couple of glasses of Riesling and some cheese and crackers. After all, we did have to sample the green tomato relish and quince (both outrageously delicious).
Day 2: Jervis Bay National Park
After sleeping fruitfully, as one does after driving, hiking and wine, we grabbed our swimmers and head to the beach for a morning swim, just a block from Kelly’s second home. We walked down to the beach on the wooden sand steps that enter just about every stretch of beach on the coast across Australia, and were joined by morning walkers with their excitable dogs. The ocean was still and flat.
Culburra, like much of the South Coast, is a peaceful place, even in the holidays. For such a naturally beautiful area, it always surprises me that the Shoalhaven hasn’t attracted too much international tourism. Sydney folk on holidays yes, but that is mainly it. As Kelly swam in the cool water, I lay on the beach looking around at the few houses dotted behind us. I felt so calm and grateful for this semi-secret gem.
After a home-cooked brekky of eggs and mushies on sourdough (with leftover relish and pesto of course) we packed up house and got back on the road, determined to get some final beach time before the season really turned. We drove into Jervis Bay National Park, and through the Beecroft Weapons Range, which shares the bushland, and head for Honeysuckle Bay. We found it a little too windy and overcast, which didn’t show up the usual magnificence of the aquamarine bay, so jumped back in the car to go instead to the northern end of Long Beach.
Much calmer there, we put towels down and traversed the sand down to the shallow water. So clear we could see neon fish swimming about underneath, the bay was still a little colder than we hoped. This section of Jervis Bay was nearly empty apart from a small white yacht a couple of bathers further down the beach. But it wasn’t warm enough for a long stay, so we head back to the car for the inevitable trip back to Sydney.
We stopped back into Berry for a late lunch. Unfortunately the Berry Sourdough Café we planned to eat at wasn’t open, as it was Tuesday, but it’s sister the Milkwood Bakery was. We ordered a cauliflower and pecorino pie each, as well as a lamington for the road. We also popped into the Il Locale Gelato Café as a last stop, no not for further sugary eating, but to check out the lovely Scandinavian-style clothes and homewares hidden in the back room.
But we did finally get back on the winding road to Sydney. And although we were only gone for one night, the country and the coast re-set us. We felt calmer, more alive, less distracted by incessant technology and over-commitment. We must remember this. And get away ALL THE TIME.